Cat Ballou

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Cat Ballou Movie Poster Image
Wild West satire with strong heroine, but drinking humor.
  • NR
  • 1965
  • 97 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This comic film attempts to turn the traditional western into a farce. As a result, the messages are intentionally perverse. Drunkenness is a great source of humor and fun and has no serious consequences. Engaging in criminal behavior is an easy and successful way to get back at those who are evil. Law enforcement officers cannot be depended upon to act honorably; rather, they are corruptible and dishonest.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Heroes, as well as villains, rob trains, murder, seek revenge and generally misbehave. Cat Ballou is portrayed as a woman who initially is innocent, gullible, and easy prey but evolves into a strong, capable woman seeking justice and control over her own destiny. Her resolve falters only when she's distracted by a charming scoundrel. Kid Shelleen is a major drunk, whose behavior is the source of much humor.


A majority of the action scenes, including those with gunplay, are played for humor and with a farcical tone. There is no blood, except for comic effect. There are fist fights and one brawl; a silly prison escape; a toupee is substituted for a scalping; gunshots careen out of control, breaking things and bouncing off walls. In one semi-serious scene the heroine’s father is shot down and killed. There is the threat of a hanging, but it’s never meant to be taken seriously.


There is some kissing, flirting, and lots of teasing innuendo which will probably go over the heads of most kids. A prisoner escapes from a law officer on a train and ducks into the bed of the very innocent heroine. He hides there leading to much sexual “miscommunication” and a clumsy attempt at seduction. A lecherous old man ogles some sexy women and Cat Ballou pretends to be a prostitute in order to trap him.


A few "damn"s and a young Native American is treated with disrespect, bullied by some, and called an “injun.”

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drunkenness is major source of comedy. A leading character is a stumbling, incoherent, and semi-conscious drunkard. He constantly swigs whiskey from a flask or bottle and the audience watches as he gets drunker and drunker and finally passes out. Other characters also drink heavily; their speech is slurred; they fall; they misbehave. There is some cigar smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the humor in this 1965 comedy is based almost entirely on outrageous drunkenness and sly sexual innuendo. The heroine takes the law into her own hands and leads a gang of con men and drunks on a criminal spree to avenge her father's murder. There are numerous action sequences, which include gunfights, brawls, murders, a train robbery -- none of them meant to be taken seriously. A young Native American hero is subjected to some racial taunting. Alcohol and cartoon-like drunkenness are pervasive.

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What's the story?

In the days of the old West, Catherine (Cat) Ballou (Jane Fonda) takes the train home, after finishing school. She does her best to appear proper, but peeks at potboilers about the notorious Kid Shelleen inside her book. On the train, she meets escaping cattle rustler Clay Boone (Michael Callan) and his uncle Jed (Dwayne Hickman). She is attracted to Clay, but not interested in becoming involved with a criminal. Cat is angry and upset when she gets home and sees that her father (John Marley) is being pressured to give up his land. He is killed by hired gun Tim Strawn. When her father's ranch hand, an Indian named Jackson (Tom Nardini) and Clay and Jed are not brave enough to help her fight back, she sends for Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin). Kid arrives, a hopeless drunk. But they help him pull himself together, and they get their revenge. Cat is captured and sentenced to be hung, but is saved at the last minute by her friends.

Is it any good?

CAT BALLOU, a cheerful satire of conventional Westerns, is a lot of fun, with attractive performers and an Oscar-winning performance by Lee Marvin in the dual roles of Shelleen and Strawn. Stubby Kaye (Guys and Dolls) and Nat "King" Cole show up as something between a Greek chorus and medieval minstrels, singing the story as it unfolds. It is good for kids to see a movie with a strong, brave, and resourceful young woman, who is an effective and inspiring leader (though all the men have crushes on her).

Unfortunately, much of the movie's humor relies on the drunken behavior of Shelleen and plenty of sexual innuendo. Nothing's overt and kids won't see anything shocking, but the underlying message that alcohol abuse is funny sends an iffy message for kids and teens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the humor in this movie. What's funny about alcohol use and sexuality? Why are these topics the source of humor in so many movies? What message does this kind of humor send to kids and teens?

  • Talk about the stereotypes in this movie. How does Cat Ballou challenge or reinforce gender stereotypes? How is the Native American character portrayed?

  • How is the violence in the movie portrayed? Does the humor take the edge off the violence? What would the real consequences of the violence be?

Movie details

For kids who love comedies

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